FRANCISTOWN: Questions whether the 2019 general elections will be free, fair and transparent have intensified following an incident in which thieve(s) broke into a dwelling house of an elections registration officer and made away with two voters’ registration books.
The incident happened on September 27 at Botsalano ward in the Francistown West constituency. The culprit(s) allegedly stole a bag containing two voters’ registration books.
Each registration book contains 25 registrations papers. Of the two registration books, one was unused while another had 18 used papers, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
The IEC has swiftly moved to state that it has mechanisms in place to make sure that all the people who are affected by the incident will be given the opportunity to re-register for the elections.
On July 31, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) parliamentary candidate for Francistown East, Morgan Moseki wrote a letter to the secretary of the IEC complaining inter alia that section 4 (3) of the Electoral Act was prone to abuse, and was indeed abused.
The section reads: “Registration and election officers shall perform the powers and duties conferred upon them by this Act in accordance with such instructions as they may be given by the secretary”.
Moseki said: “In the past, such instructions included the keeping of registration books in the custody of temporary and inexperienced officers throughout the registration process, which tempted some unscrupulous persons with the connivance of registration officers to register voters at night long after polling stations had closed”.
Moseki said that the provision could not envisage a situation which would give rise to permitting registration officers to keep registration books in their custody at their homes for the entire duration of the registration process which runs counter to the running of a free and credible registration process.
In synopsis, the gist of Moseki’s letter to the IEC was, amongst other reasons, that the registration books shall not be kept in the custody of registration officers at their residences like it was prior to the 2014 general elections, but should be under lock and key in the elections office.
“Many are surprised that an issue so sensitive as an election process is conducted in such a cavalier manner,” he wrote, further demanding a reply within 14 days, “otherwise I shall at the expiry of the stipulation herein instruct an attorney to issue and serve a statutory notice on the Attorney General (AG) seeking inter alia, an order to invalidate the entire process if not conducted in a manner reflecting a free and fair poll”.
A certain DL Serumula, on behalf of the secretary of the IEC replied to Moseki’s letter on August 17. “When securing registration officers, the applicants are taken through a comprehensive process, the intention being to appoint officers of high integrity. The officers are further trained rigorously on the relevant provisions of the law to enable then to execute their duties diligently,”
“The IEC has increased the number of registration supervisors to ensure credibility of the registration exercise. Furthermore, the IEC has recently established cluster coordination offices which adds on to the increased supervision of the registration process,” the IEC further stated.
However, the letter added that, “given the vastness of our country against the available resources and infrastructure, it is practically impossible to have the registration books kept in the manner you suggested”.
About a month and a week after the IEC replied to Moseki’s letter, a house-breaking and stealing from a dwelling house incident happened at Botsalano.
The break-in seems to have validated some of Moseki’s concerns to the IEC. Moseki said he has since passed his concerns to the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), which is very supportive of his queries. He added that the BCP may refer the matter to the UDC for further consultations before deciding to institute legal action against the IEC.
In a related matter, some voters are querying a paper that registration officers give to people who have finished the process of registering for the elections at polling stations. The paper captures the full names of people who have registered to vote and their phone numbers.
People who are complaining about it say that given the history of collusions between electoral bodies and ruling parties in Africa, they suspect that the IEC may provide that information to the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) to favour it during the general elections next year.
The spokesperson of the IEC, Osupile Maroba however allayed those fears. He said that the voters’ contact details are only used for purposes of contacting voters by the IEC following eventualities like the one that happened at Botsalano.
“The IEC uses the information on that paper for administrative purposes like the one you cited in Francistown West. We also use it to easily get in contact with voters if we discover that some information is missing from the voters’ registration books. This is done in order to make sure that no eligible voter is disenfranchised during election time,” said Maroba.
He reiterated that the IEC is an independent body that is non-partisan ,adding it will never be influenced by any political party and would never support any party over others.
“We only carry out our mandate according to the dictates of the Electoral Act… The paper that you mentioned is also not in the letterhead of the IEC because it is used for administrative purposes. It is used to improve our services to the people. It is not a requirement for it to be in the letterhead of the IEC,” said Maroba.